Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas To and Fro

Christmas is not for the faint of heart—the getting there and back, anyway. I’ve seen them on the news: the hassled, bleary-eyed travelers playing hurry-and-wait at the airports and bus stations. We Wyoming wayfarers rarely make the national broadcasts, but we have our share of travel stresses too. For those who are lucky enough to live in warmer, dryer, less windy climes, I’ve taken the liberty of tinkering with some song lyrics to encourage empathy or, at least, drum up a little sympathy.

Christmas To and Fro, Wyoming Style
(To the tune of Over the River and Through the Woods) 

Past the mountains and through the canyon
To Grampie’s house we go
The 4-wheel drive hauls the gifts for hundreds of miles
Of ice and slush and snow-oh! 

Over the prairie and through the desert
Down the highway we go
Our knuckles turn white as we hold the steering wheel tight
While 60 miles-per-hour gusts blow-oh! 

Past the mountains and through the canyon
Back to the ranch we go
Thanks to turkey, cookies, pie, and homemade rolls
There’s more traction on the snow-oh!


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Messiah

We see them all over in December: the iconic renderings of the Nativity on Christmas cards, on lawns, and in Nativity sets. Beneath the Star of Bethlehem, Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds, sheep, and donkeys are shown gathered around a manger that holds the baby Jesus. Most depict a stable of some kind, although some scholars believe that the manger may have been in a cave which was used to house animals.

Cave or stable, barn or corral—whichever it was, I’m particularly touched by the fact that the Messiah was born in such a place. As one who’s cleaned more than her share of horse stalls, goat pens, and calving barns, I feel qualified to point out a few details about the Nativity that many folks may not have considered: sheep produce poo, donkeys emit doo, and even clean hay or straw itches like crazy!

Why didn’t the Messiah make His grand entrance in a Super 8, Mariott, or better yet, Bethlehem University Medical Center? That's a mystery to me. Nevertheless, I’m grateful and happy to have a Savior who’s not afraid to get His hands dirty, who’s willing and able to roll up His sleeves, get in the middle of the inglorious mess that is me, and help me—and anyone else who asks!

But I feel for Mary, I really do.

There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God's angel stood among them and God's glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, "Don't be afraid. I'm here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David's town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you're to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger."
                                                         Luke 2:8

Sunday, December 18, 2011


     If you think football is big in Texas, you should see Christmas!

     I don’t know that firsthand, but I’m a grandchild of Mimi and Papa, aka Nettie and Graham Powell, who emigrated from Texas in 1941. Mimi and Papa brought their pecans and Big Texas Christmases (hereafter referred to as BTCs) with them to their new homeland.

     To the untrained eye, BTCs appear excessive. We BTCians overdecorate, overbake, overspend, and overgift. After all, there can never be too many ornaments, too many varieties of candy and cookies, and too many presents under the tree.

     When it comes to gifts, the emphasis of the BTC is quantity. One can keep quality in mind, as long as it’s really on sale, but the goal of the true BTC is a colorfully-wrapped mountain of boxes and bags piled in front of each family member on Christmas morning. Hence, inexpensive “stockin’” gifts are welcome, particularly if they’re funny.

     When my sister and I were kids, Mimi and Mom, the only first-generation Texan-American, secretly stitched, shopped, and squirreled away bargains for the BTC. A few weeks before the big day, Papa would sneak some bills into we grandkids’ pockets and whisper, “That’s for Christmas!” We understood that it was not to be spent on anything but presents for the family. As if all the gifts weren’t enough, Papa made sure that Santa left every Powell descendant (fortunately we’re a very small family) a greenback for the day-after-Christmas sales! Dad, a BTCian by marriage and heart if not by birth, gradually assumed Papa’s role as Chief Financier of the BTC.

     An unwritten but set-in-stone commandment of the BTC: Only one gift is to be opened at a time, by only one person at a time. Only after the treasure has been exclaimed over and gratitude expressed is it the next guy’s turn. No gift goes without appreciation because the gifter bought or made it out of love for the giftee. Naturally, this process takes hours, but coffee and restroom breaks are permissible.

     Mimi and Papa now celebrate Christmas in heaven, the place that invented extravagant and joyful gifting, but their heritage continues here in Wyoming. I’d give you more details, but I’ve got to go—I’ve got lots of presents to wrap!

“Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly.”
                            1 Corinthians 13:13 MSG

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Not-So Silent Night

Most of the Moos in Mooville are mad. It’s weaning time out in the corral, and a fence separates the milk-craving calves from their swollen-uddered Black Angus mamas. Loud and heart-rending bellows can be heard even in the house.

Ranchers play the role of benevolent dictators. (Judging from the padding on the ribs of our livestock, Hubby and I are a bit too benevolent.) Our decisions are based on the welfare of the land and animals, and the cattle are usually in full agreement, such as when we decide that it’s time to rotate pastures or start feeding hay. But when it comes to weaning, we’re all a bit miserable.

The distress is unavoidable. The pregnant mama cows don’t need to be supporting those big calves along with their unborn ones; besides, the calves have been fully ruminating for months and get plenty of protein from alfalfa. We humans know that, but it still pains us to watch (and listen to) the unhappiness down at the barn. We also realize that, in a matter of months, the cows will be proudly and happily nursing some darling new calves. But, alas, we can’t ease the discomfort or quiet the protests. Care and prayers are ours to give, but peace is not ours to impart, primarily because we can’t speak Black Anglish.

Oh, for a host of heavenly winged bovines to moo lullabies tonight: Peace on earth, goodwill towards cattle. Everything is going to be alright! Now, calm down and have a silent night, holy night!

“Through the heartfelt mercies of our God,
God’s Sunrise will break in upon us,
Shining on those in the darkness…
Then showing us the way…down the path of peace.”
                      LUKE 1:78-79

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

License to Elf

     Elfing season is upon us. Armed with debit cards and coupons, spatulas and Grandma’s recipes, extension cords and ornaments, we hunt and wrap, stir and bake, light and decorate. All bargains, sprinkles, and boughs (real or otherwise) are fair game. We won’t stop until the presents are in the bag, the sugar cookies are on the platter, and the wreaths are mounted on the walls. Then, after indulging in a peppermint mocha, we’ll head out the door to track down some more wrapping paper, fudge ingredients, and replacement bulbs.

     “Christmas is out of hand!” the Grinches grump. “It’s too much work. We spend too much money. We eat too much.”

     Ah, but we elves won’t stop because we have a license to elf. It’s in the Bible, in the ninth chapter of Isaiah.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.
Oh, they’re so glad in Your presence! The joy of a great celebration, sharing rich gifts and warm greetings.
For a child has been born—for us! The gift of a son—for us!”

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Merry Up

“I don’t feel like decorating for Christmas this year,” I remarked to Hubby the other day. His response was immediate: “Are you sick?”

Usually I can hardly wait to haul up the boxes labeled Xmas, dig out my treasures, and spruce up the place into holiday shape. Most years, I even start decorating before Thanksgiving! But this year, son Zach is a world away in India, and it will be my first Christmas in 19 years without him. Heavy-hearted, I kept thinking Zach’s not going to be here, and no family is coming, so who cares? and I’m too down in the dumps to do this, so why bother? (I didn’t realize it, but I’d pretty much thunk myself into a funk!)

Well, Hubby helped me carry the boxes up, and eventually I began to drag out a wreath here and a sleigh there, but I couldn’t muster any of my usual enthusiasm. Decorating had become drudgery instead of delight.

Early this morning, while taking my first sips of coffee and watching the Weather Channel with Hubby, a thought entered my groggy brain: What if you decorated more instead of less? Huh?

I looked around the living room, and my eyes rested on a sampler I’d stitched that reads: “The joy of the Lord is your strength. Nehemiah 8:10.” Then I noticed the lone wreath hanging on the wall; it had a little sign on it that says “Joy to the World”. And I remembered that one of Jesus’ names is Immanuel (God-With-Us). Robin, do you believe what you profess to believe?

“Yes, I do!” I replied in my journal. “God is here, joy is here! And wherever Zach is, God is with him too.” Something that felt like light and warmth immediately lifted the cold heaviness that I’d allowed to seep into my soul. I could hardly wait to get my house and cow duties over with so I could resume decking the halls!

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing.” ROMANS 15:13

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cinnamon Toast

     When son Zach was in preschool, he and his little classmates created their first Thanksgiving works of art: the iconic tempera -handprint-on-construction-paper turkeys. The teachers took dictation from the children as they completed the sentence, “I’m thankful for….” Heart-warming expressions of gratitude--usually for Mommies, Daddies, and pets--were transcribed below each speaker’s turkey. The masterpieces were displayed on the wall for proud parents to admire and exclaim over.
     I eagerly searched the exhibit for my son’s magnum opus. There it was--a darling yellow and green fowl, beneath which the caption read (drum roll): “I’m thankful for…cinnamon toast.”
     “Cinnamon toast?” I said to myself. “Is that all? A painful birth, colic, breastfeeding, diapers, strollers, tantrums, potty training, and 2,017 re-readings of Where the Wild Things Are, and the only thing he’s thankful for is cinnamon toast?” (Don’t ask me why I’d expected grander things from a preschooler.)
      Fifteen Thanksgivings later, Zach’s on an 11-month Rotary exchange to India, which, coincidentally, is one of the birthplaces of cinnamon. I’m proud of his gumption to travel to and study in such a drastically different world than our own, and I’m very grateful for his hard-working guardian angels, but I really miss him. Maybe that’s why I’ve been thinking about cinnamon toast.
      Ah, but why not be thankful for cinnamon toast? Without cinnamon, pumpkin pies would be nearly tasteless, and no one’s grandma would have ever baked the world’s best cinnamon rolls. God didn’t have to bless us with such a vast assortment of spices and seasonings. Try to imagine what life would be like if every meal since the first breakfast served in Eden had been without seasoning or zing. We’d be a thinner species, to be sure, but oh, so dreadfully bored!
“Every good and perfect gift is from above….” JAMES 1:17

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Big Game

Hubby and I are loyal fans of the Montana State Bobcats.  Thanks to Hubby’s nephew Paul, we had two of the most coveted football tickets in the state of Montana—today’s archrivalry between the Bobcats and the University of Montana Grizzlies. But when a storm brought snow, icy roads and bitter cold, I opted to stay home, babysit the animals, and watch the game from my recliner. Hubby, who’s considerably braver than I, not to mention a great deal more zealous for his team, risked life and limb (to accident or frostbite) and made the pilgrimage alone.

I’m no football analyst, so I can’t say exactly what went wrong for the Bobcats, except everything. Not a single player on the team played his position with his usual assurance and pizzaz. The final score was a dismal and embarrassing 36-10! Needless to say, the Bobcats are no longer rated No.1 in the conference, although they are still expected to earn a spot in the playoffs. Their coach is a smart, classy, character-oriented guy, so I’m sure he didn’t scream at his already-disgraced team in the locker room following the game. Still, I wonder what he did say. Maybe he quoted some well-known, wise and witty coaches….

·         “Adversity is the state in which man most easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free of admirers then.” John Wooden

·         “You’re never as good as everyone tells you when you win, and you’re never as bad as they say when you lose.” Lou Holtz

·         “If you make every game a life-and-death thing, you’re going to have problems. You’ll be dead a lot.” Dean Smith

There’s nothing like a good wisecrack to put things in perspective! 

“Then the God who lifts up the downcast lifted our heads and our hearts….”
                                   2 Corinthians 7:6-7

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Circumstantial Evidence

I’ve been a goat owner for seven months now. For six months and 29 days, my sweet Blueberry and Meels have had me wrapped around their proverbial little fingers.  Hubby calls them Their Majesties, the Princesses of Spoilsville, because of all the time and effort I put in to ensure their welfare and happiness, not to mention the money and exertion that we’ve invested in their accommodations! In my and the goaties’ defense, I present the following evidence:

·         My Nigerians love to give and receive affection. Even when let out of their pen to graze, they want to exchange pets, kisses, and tail wags with me before they eat. Our horses enjoy strokes and hugs, but only when their appetites are satisfied and they have nothing better to do.

·         The twins truly prefer human company. Given their freedom, they putter around somewhere near their people, although they’ll hang out with the horses or cows if we’re unavailable. The little dears love to “help” me do chores or accompany me for walks—no lead rope needed—and have been lobbying for admittance into the house.

·         Goaties make for great merriment. On excursions, the twins play their preferred game, Hi-Ho Silver, in which they hang back and dilly-dally before breaking into a clattering gallop as they race each other to catch up. Other favorites include Queen-of-the-Hill (pushing each other of the top of a hill, table or ATV), Lion-and-Wolf Wars (pretending to stick the cat and dog with their pretend horns), and Bighorn Sheep (leaping, charging and butting heads with one another just like bighorn rams, albeit with mock force).

·         The caprines are less devoted to terra firma than bovines or equines. (How many cattle or horses have you seen up in a tree?) Of the two, Meels (short for “Amelia Earhart”) pays the least attention to gravity; her motto is The sky’s the limit, and her favorite napping spot is the sunroof on my Escape.

·         The darlings have the gift of gab. Whenever they see or hear me, they seek to engage me in their nasally chatter. Such conversation usually falls into the category of Requests and Reminders (“I felt a raindrop—can we go in the barn?” “Can we come too?” “It’s time for supper.”) Most other remarks can be filed under the heading of Announcements (“Hey, we’re over here.” “We like these leaves.” “You’re our best friend.”)

If one takes into account all amusement delivered and smiles rendered, one must conclude that I am completely justified in spoiling, indulging, and fussing over Blueberry and Meels. Case dismissed.

“He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and
carries them close to His heart.” Isaiah 40:11

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Grace and Pastry

We had our own protest movement that morning: Occupy Round Bale Feeder. Our little herd was rallying against greedy ranchers who store up alfalfa in haystacks, only feeding it to spoiled goats, while withholding it from the animals that do the real work on this ranch—the cows. The spokesperson for the herd, Princess, has a loud and insistent moo that’s hard to ignore, backed up by some of the most enchanting and persuasive big brown eyes to ever plead their case.

We’d been waiting for the ground to freeze and the recently established alfalfa and grasses to go dormant before turning out the cows; in the meantime, we’d been supplementing their shorter pasture with some lesser quality hay. Hubby has always fed the round bales with the tractor. Years ago, a guy I knew was killed in a freak tractor-round bale accident, so I was hesitant to volunteer for the job. But Hubby had been working off the ranch full-time, so I’d resolved to face my fears and help him. Princess and the other demonstrators were in full agreement with my decision.

Earlier that morning, I’d asked Hubby if I should wait until he got home from work so he could ride along with me while I fed the first time, but he’d said, “No, you’ll be okay.”

Well, it turns out that I was okay, even got the bale fed okay, but the two of the gates I drove through weren’t so okay! I’d driven the tractor now and then, but never with the terracing blade attached in the rear. I was so busy practicing with the round bale spear hydraulics that I never thought to check that the blade was lifted off the ground and turned diagonally so that it wouldn’t catch on every other gate I drove through! When I discovered the damage, I was so angry with myself, humiliated, and afraid of Hubby’s anger that I started crying and couldn’t stop. Bodie, my cowdog and right hand man, was wagging his tail slowly, looking worried.

When I reached Hubby on his cell and sobbed out the details of my disaster, he just laughed. “I guess you disliked my gates so much that you decided to just wipe them out!” he chuckled, referring to a recent column I’d written for The Western Farmer-Stockman ( “It’s okay. I know of a good fencing assistant,” he said, and then added when we signed off, “Love you.”

After that, I looked at Bodie and said, “Grace. That’s grace. We’ll have to bake that man some cookies today.” I did, and those cookies sure tasted better than the humble pie I'd eaten earlier.

“Love prospers when a fault is forgiven.” Proverbs 17:9 NLT

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

One Goat at a Time

I can’t relax in the evenings without first making sure that the cat and dog are safe indoors, the goats are safe in the barn, and they and the livestock have plenty of food and water—oh, yes, Hubby too! The heartbreaking truth, however, is that our animals are better off than over one billion children on this planet. Look at these facts from UNICEF (in The State of the World’s Children: 2005):

·         33.9% of the world’s children share a room with 5 or more others and/or live on a dirt floor.

·         30.7% of the world’s children have no toilet.

·         21.1% of the world’s children have no access to clean water.

·         16.1% of the world’s children are malnourished.

·         14.2 % of the world’s children have no medical care whatsoever.

·         13.1% of the world’s children have never been to school.

But the worst statistic of all is that 1.2 million children are trafficked for slave labor or prostitution every year (according to UNICEF in The State of the World’s Children: Special Edition). Some of these children are kidnapped or found in the streets, but many are actually sold by their parents because they think their kids may have a better life in slavery than at home with them, starving.

Fortunately, there are well-established and reputable non-profit organizations, made up of hard-working, smart, compassionate and courageous people, who are helping these desperate families. Charitable donations are converted into meals, water wells, medical supplies and clinics, school supplies and schools, homes and orphanages.

Or—get this—you can give a goat! You can donate rabbits, chickens, ducks, dairy goats or cows, sheep, llamas, donkeys, water buffalo, honeybees or even camels to families who are trained in animal husbandry, supervised, and required to donate the first offspring to another needy family. Livestock not only provide families with ongoing sources of food (eggs, milk, cheese, meat, honey) and/or fiber (wool), they also provide income from the sale of food, fiber, offspring or manure.

Hubby and I are giving a dairy goat. By doing so, we aren’t just giving a handout, we’re giving someone hope, dignity, and entertainment. (If you don’t know what goats have to do with entertainment, or if your life is a bit predictable and dull, then you need to give yourself a goat!)

If you’re at all interested in contributing a cow, bestowing a beehive, sharing a sheep, or providing a pig, check out the following organizations: Heifer International (, Samaritan’s Purse (, and Gospel for Asia ( Please let me know of others that are doing the same type of thing.

If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.                                Isaiah 58:10-11

Sunday, October 23, 2011

'Fraidy Cat

If you’ve read some of my earlier blogs, then you already know Smokey, our resident cat-in-charge. Mornings are when Smokey is the most full of vim and vigor; he stalks the goats, climbs trees, sharpens his claws on fence posts, and races around the pond and barnyard in an apparent attempt to startle as many birds and mammals as possible.

Smokey’s morning started the same way it normally does: the little Viking scratched my favorite chair, bit my arm, and was promptly evicted from the house so he could plunder and pillage elsewhere. As usual, Smokey reappeared when Bodie (the dog) and I were doing chores. Without acknowledging our presence, the little hotshot just strode past us with that Lion King-Joe Cool swagger of his. I made mention of the mouse I’d seen in the barn the day before, but, apparently, he had more pressing business.

I’d finished chores and was headed houseward when I heard a peculiar banging sound coming from the barn. “What could that cat be up to?” I asked Bodie. Before long, I found Smokey, balanced precariously on top of a 2X10 at the top of the barn wall, eyes round, his pupils dilated with fear. Since I have a fear of heights myself, I well understood that miserable, panicky, how-will-I-ever-get-down-from-here feeling!

 “Mmrroww, mmrroww!” Smokey entreated me to rescue him. I dragged a ladder over to a large round straw bale lying near the wall, then lugged an even bigger ladder up on top of the straw and rested it on the wall close to the cat. The top of the ladder was only about 18 inches from the cat, so I was sure that he could easily climb down. I waited. I encouraged. I reassured. But, “Mmrroww, mmrroww!” was the only response.

 I remembered working on a shed roof with Hubby. When it was time to climb down the ladder, the heights-panic hit me, and suddenly it seemed as if the roof was miles from the ground instead of just feet. And the first time I went down a ski hill, the mild slope looked almost as steep as a cliff. (One definition of “fear” is False Evidence Appearing Real.) In both instances, I just froze. If people hadn’t been around to more or less force me down, I might still be up that ladder or mountain!

Well, my mountain climbing-kid was in India, and Hubby was miles away at work, so I was Smokey’s only hope. Up the ladders I went, counting on the promises of Psalm 91 (see below). Smokey stretched down to where I could grab him by the scruff of the neck and lower him to the ladder, then followed me to solid ground and the house. Temporarily deflated of pride and bravado, he slept soundly on the bed for the rest of the day.

As for me, I felt kind of proud of myself. For most people, ascending and descending that ladder would’ve been no big deal, but for me, it was a victory of faith over fear. For once, the ‘fraidy cat was actually a cat and not me!

He ordered his angels to guard you wherever you go.
If you stumble, they'll catch you; their job is to keep you from falling.
                                    Psalm 91:11-12

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

October Shining

October must be one of the most photographed and painted months of the year, and, indeed, it’s a month worth bragging about. In our little corner of Wyoming, October sets the gold standard for weather—not too hot, cold or windy—and, of course, the color gold. Gold seems to glow from nearly all of October’s best gifts:

·         The brilliant golden marigolds, black-eyed Susans, and calendulas still blooming bravely, even though the mountains in the distance are covered with snow.

·         The tawny Yukon gold potatoes that we’re digging from the garden. (We’ve got lots—want some?)

·         The honey gold haystacks concealing their green treasure troves of protein-laden, nutrient-rich alfalfa.

·         The golden orange of the buttercup squash and carrots that we’re squirreling away; added to all the sweet corn in the freezer, we’re pretty much fixed for vitamin A this winter.

·         The lemon-gold pears, my favorite fall fruit, which was not picked from our pear tree, but, hey, maybe next year.

·         The glorious shades of gold in the cottonwood, willow, and quaking aspen leaves.

·         Last but not least: the vibrant gold-and-navy of the Montana State University Bobcats, who, by the way, are having a stellar football season thus far!

Even the October sunlight seems to have a golden cast as it glistens off the early morning frosts or the shiny new winter coats of the horses and cows.

Gold-the-mineral seems to be worth a lot these days as our American dollar is singing the blues. Hubby and I don’t have any gold bars or bullion, but we are rich in carotenes, xanthophylls, Bobcat sweatshirts, and touchdowns!

“For God Who said, Let light shine out of darkness, has shone in our hearts….”                                          (2 Corinthians 4:6 AMP)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Memorial

Jessie, our beloved and somewhat spoiled dog, passed away this week at the age of 14.

Born in a pig barn on a Montana ranch, Jessie was soon adopted by Robin, who celebrated the occasion by sticking the pup in the bathroom sink to scrub away the pig smell. Jessie didn’t care for that or any other bath, although certain skunk encounters necessitated them.

Jessie was a quiet, undemanding dog who loved walks, rides in the truck, scratches on her tummy, and food—especially people food. She also liked to haul home various pieces and parts of decayed carrion or rotten afterbirth, always depositing them on the front lawn before chewing them up.
Blue heelers are notorious for aggressively protecting their home and family; however, Jessie was an exception. A sweet soul who never bit anyone, she even served as a much-loved therapy dog at a women’s prison for a time.

Blue heelers are also known for their cattle herding prowess, but Jessie preferred to herd horses, rabbits and neighbor cats. The only cow work she volunteered for was accompanying Hubby in the tractor while he fed round bales. And one winter when Hubby calved out of a breezy cabin heated only by an old cookstove, Jessie kept him from freezing to death by cuddling next to him on the bed.

             Also known as Jessie Pig and Jessie Pooh Bear (in reference to her ravenous appetite and subsequent stature), Jessie’s only vice was stealing food from the other pets, which she did up to the day before she died.

Jessie is survived by a big brother, Zach Lentsch; her parents, Marcus and Robin; her buddy, Bodie; and the cat, Smokey. A tough but sometimes unwise dog, Jessie herself survived quite a few unfortunate events: torn ACLs from rabbit chasing, poisoning from the neighbor’s antifreeze, over-sedation from a recent veterinary school grad, several near-drownings in irrigation systems, and a vicious attack by a protective mama Angus.

Jessie was buried in the place of highest honor on the ranch, Robin’s rose bed, where two special rose bushes will be planted next spring.  She is sorely missed.

In lieu of flowers, memorials, or casseroles, just remember that life is short, especially for dogs, so don’t pass up a chance to share a table scrap, a pat, or a ride in the truck.

“In His hand is the life of every creature….”
Job 12:10

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Cheer or Drear?

It’s one of the most physically demanding jobs we have here on the ranch, and today it was all mine: wrestling irrigation pipe. This particular stretch of pipeline was relatively short, but every one of those  30-foot long, 10-inch diameter PVC babies had to be hoisted out of a ditch, aligned, lubricated, pulled and pushed uphill. Gravity isn’t that big of a deal if you’re strong like Hubby or Zach, but it is for me! To complicate matters, the pipeline follows a curved burm; pipes can’t be fitted together unless they are both straight and somewhat level.
As I huffed and puffed, heaved and hoed, several whiney, toxic thoughts sprang to mind about certain unnamed persons off traveling while I was home doing jobs that most farmers around here hire illegal immigrants to do. But since I’ve learned from experience that self-pity is a drag and anger is no fun, I decided instead to fight to keep my joy and peace.
“‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’,” I grunted. “I’m thankful that at my age, I can still work this hard,” I panted. “I choose to do this with a loving attitude,” I gasped. “‘Love never fails!’” I wheezed.
At last, the mission was completed; that corner of the hayfield was now ready to irrigate. “We did it!” I exclaimed to God and my dog, who’d been lending moral support from the road. I was tempted to collapse on the ground to rest, but alfalfa stubble isn’t much more comfortable than a bed of nails.When I walked home, I had something of an epiphany: If I had given an audience to my negative thoughts, the job would have taken the same amount of time, but I would have carried my sour attitude around with me for hours afterwards. As it was, I was free to enjoy the rest of my day!
“The joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Deprived and the Not-So-Deprived

Hubby had to do all the chores and irrigating last night, since I was on the bi-monthly pilgrimage to Billings, Montana, to pick up a round bale feeder and vacuum cleaner and to stock up on cheap groceries. He called with an AAR (animal accommodation report) as I was headed home.

·         Hubby brought the goats into the barn and fed them, but they protested loudly until he figured out that they didn’t like the stemmy hay that he’d given them. He gave them some leafy alfalfa; they shut up.
·         He let the cat in and deposited him in front of a reasonably full bowl of cat food. The cat wouldn’t eat, however, and meowed pitifully until Hubby remembered me saying that Smokey insists on a scoop of fresh food at every meal. (Not only that, but, once a day, he orders up a side of dog kibble or biscuits.)

The cows, horses, and dogs were more agreeable and, for once, didn’t lobby for more than they were given.

For a few glorious weeks in late summer, we humans feast on sweet corn while the bovines devour sweet corn shucks, cobs, and stalks. When the corn disappeared, I rotated the cows to another pasture which was lush from irrigation and rest. One would think that the herd would be satisfied with green grass up to their knees, but not so—early the next morning they showed up, looking for their sweet corn breakfast!

Son Zach, who is on a year-long Rotary student exchange to Jamnagar, India, tells us that our animals don’t know how good they have it compared to that of animals in his city. Dogs and cats aren’t kept as pets; chickens, pigs, goats and water buffalo aren’t kept on a farm. No one feeds them. They run wild, subsisting on what they glean from the garbage dumps or their fellow gleaners. Disease (most of the dogs suffer from mange) and parasites are the norm.

Maybe we should send our over-indulged animals overseas to see how their Indian brethren are getting along in the garbage dumps. When they return, they might not be so quick to fuss if their meals are not 5-star rated or, heaven forbid, five minutes late!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Mirth Blooming

                The honeybees love me! Well, at least they never sting me as we work side by side in the flower beds—me watering and weeding, they gathering nectar and pollinating. It’s the middle of September; the nights are cold, but it has yet to frost. The sunny yellows of the marigolds, calendulas and black-eyed Susans have never been so bright, and the scarlet, pink and peach hues of the roses have never been so vivid. Even the sunflowers, purple coneflowers and poppies, though weary and heavy-laden with seed, are still blooming satisfactorily.

                The bees and I know that it’s just a matter of days before the flowers will be frostbitten, their brilliance turned to brown and black dullness. To ease the pain of color-lovers who inhabit cold climates, the good Lord—a master of garden design if there ever was one—has provided for dazzling autumn displays of red, orange and yellow that even outshine the intense, smiling hues of mums and asters. Already the current bushes are turning crimson, and the green is fading in the aspen and cottonwoods.

                In a few months, when there’s nothing but neutrals—white snow, tan grass, grey trunks and branches—I’ll be ever so grateful for the few splotches of color that I still have: the red-orange rose hips and a few young juniper and blue spruce trees. (Why didn’t we plant more of those? I’ll wonder.) And I’ll be even more thankful that our home, barn and outbuildings aren’t the neutrals we’d originally considered, but are a cheery barn red with white trim and hunter green roofs. My color focus will have shifted indoors as I merrily deck the halls in preparation for Christmas. (Don’t worry about the bees. By then, they’ll have been transported to the West Coast and will be buzzing about from one almond blossom to another.)

                Color is a miracle which dictionaries and the science of physics try to explain in vague terms such as, “An attribute of things that results from the light they reflect, transmit, or emit in so far as this light causes a visual sensation that depends on its wavelengths.” (Huh?) To me, color in nature is just more proof that our Creator loves people (hey, He could have designed the world in grayscale and we’d have never known the difference) and that He’s not near as austere as we sometimes suppose. The next time you pass a zinnia or a viola, look closely—you might just see God grinning.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Of Sticks and Sons

“Why are you putting all those sticks in the ground?” asked the little boy, looking down at Hubby and me on our knees in the mud.
“These aren’t sticks,” we laughed. “They’re trees!” He looked dubious, and I couldn’t blame him. The tiny saplings indeed looked like mere sticks—they had no branches or leaves and only a few roots. Fifty of them fit into one bucket!
We planted hundreds of trees that day and have done so several times since, doing our part to enhance the environment as well as increase the profits of companies that produce OTC pain relievers. (Tree planting wouldn’t be so hard on the knees and back if the bulk of the work could be done above ground level!)
Anyone who has planted trees knows the investment of time required to nurse a “stick” into a tree. When I heard the Chinese proverb, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago,” I laughed at its truth. Everything else we plant—grass, crops, flowers, vegetables—nearly always grows to maturity in a year or two, but trees take years, even decades.
Wyoming is no Garden of Eden either. Saplings face enemies like sub-zero winters, hot and dry summers, choking weeds, alkaline soil, brutal winds, and munching mule deer . In order for young trees to survive and thrive here, we Johnny Appleseeds have to help them out with irrigation, mulch, weeding, fertilizer, and protective fencing—not to mention splints made from sticks, socks and duct tape!
Tree husbandry can be quite rewarding when a “stick” you planted three years ago finally has a trunk strong enough for the cat to climb, branches sturdy enough to support a songbird, or shade enough for the dogs on a hot summer afternoon. This summer, I discovered a red-winged blackbird nest in a little silver buffaloberry we’d planted just over a year earlier! Even though the nest was partially supported by a thistle, I felt a certain parental pride, the kind I felt when Zach played Theodore Roosevelt in his 2nd grade history play, or made his first layup in 5th grade basketball.
The most gratifying thing about tree parenting, I think, is that, after all the investment of time, work and love that you put into saplings, they don’t pack their bags and move to India!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Imagine That!

I’ve heard it said that man is the only animal with an imagination. Whoever said that was a man without a cat. Cats stalk and torment more imaginary mice than real ones, especially if inclement weather has kept them stuck in the house for too long. (For reasons I can’t fathom, most make-believe mice live underneath throw rugs.)

Our rascally tabby, Smokey [see 8-13-11 blog], loves to pretend he’s an African lion hunting gazelles in the Serengeti. In the absence of gazelles, our Nigerian goats will do. Smokey loves to creep out onto a Russian olive branch and lie in wait to ambush poor Blueberry and Meels, or to stalk them in the tall weeds and grass before dashing in for the kill. Sometimes the kids are startled and run away from him--until they discern the diminutive grey lion’s identity, that is. Then they rear up on their hind legs and charge Smokey; the latter will just plop down on the ground, casually rolling in the dirt or licking a paw as if to say, Relax, girls. I was just kidding. At this point, the “gazelles” resume their browsing, and the “lion” disappears to his lair.

If you’ve hung out with horses, you know that they possess a vivid imagination as well. Given a plunging barometer and a good stiff wind, horses envision mortal enemies lurking behind every other tree, sagebrush or weed. I’ve never seen these beasts and can only surmise that they’re invisible to the human eye. Nevertheless, it seems that they wait until a horse has just passed their hiding place, whereupon they leap out, gnashing teeth and brandishing claws that spook even the sanest horse.

One Saturday when my son Zach was two or three, he announced from his perch on the monkey bars: “I Superman. I gonna fly.” Before I could reach him, he stretched his arms forward and launched himself into the air. His imagination led to a crash landing which in turn led us to the emergency room (fortunately nothing serious)!

Now that Zach is on a student exchange to India for a year, it would be so easy for me to imagine all kinds of terrible things happening to him over there, alone, on the other side of the world. Disease, crime, terrorism, accidents would not be unheard of—but wait, he’s not alone—God’s in India too, and so is Zach’s overworked and underpaid guardian angel (the kid climbs mountains). Not only do I know he’ll be okay, I believe that he’ll be better than okay.

“God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams.” Ephesians 3:20, MSG

Friday, August 19, 2011

Rumor Has It

            “I hear your wife’s a retired investment broker,” a hay buyer said to Hubby the other day. The latter laughed so hard, I’m told, that he was almost rolling in the hayfield.
            When I learned this “fact” about myself, I had a pretty good chuckle. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth! I detest numbers and figures, am hard-pressed to balance a checkbook, and know next to nothing about the stock market. My biggest investment was the purchase of two yearling heifers last year, one of which broke her leg—oh, well, maybe I am a stock broker of sorts!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

From the Office of Ranchland Security

We’ve got a young grey tabby named Smokey, which is short for Holy-smokes-what-a-holy-terror! Smokey can be the sweetest, cuddliest, most endearing cat ever. Moments later, he can morph into the orneriest, most troublesome little terrorist this side of Yemen.
Despite his unpredictable temperament, Smokey’s cuteness and charm has completely stolen our hearts. Hubby and I dote on his every whim, which may be a different flavor of cat food each time he’s fed, a spoonful of Hubby’s morning yogurt, a broken-up dog biscuit, or fresh water from the tap. He’ll ask politely with a purr to be let outdoors at 3 a.m., but if we ignore him, he’ll bite whatever shoulder or leg that he can find sticking out of the covers.
Hubby and I go to great lengths to ensure Smokey’s welfare. We’ve been known to tramp around with a flashlight around the pond or barnyard on a frigid winter’s night, calling his name with more and more concern because we worry about coyotes and owls.  Meanwhile, the little scoundrel, whose night vision is much better than ours, is happily playing hide-and-go-seek.
On one such safari, Hubby was searching near the haystack. Suddenly he was attacked by a wild beast which threw itself onto the back of his legs, viciously digging its claws into him. Hubby spooked up in the air pretty good, but before he came down, he apprehended his assailant by the scruff of the neck. The offending party turned out to be none other than the outlaw Smokey the Kid, so he was promptly taken into custody.
Our poor dogs can’t figure out why we put up with that renegade. Unlike them, he doesn’t herd cows, guard goats, or safeguard the sofa. The dogs certainly don’t stalk us for sport, play in the spice cabinet, or repeatedly bang cupboard doors in the middle of the night. They know they’d never get away with hiding in the closet and biting us when we reached for our clothes, or knocking glasses and oatmeal cartons off the kitchen counters. Dogs have been sent to the pound for lesser crimes than that!
I guess Smokey doesn’t get what’s coming to him because he’s so incredibly cute—big ears, big eyes, adorable stripes all over—not to mention entertaining! I myself am not particularly cute or entertaining—and I’m totally stripeless—but I too am the recipient of unmerited mercy, liberal grace, and astonishing love.
God is sheer mercy and grace;
      not easily angered, he's rich in love.
   He doesn't treat us as our sins deserve,
      nor pay us back in full for our wrongs.
                                                             PSALM 103:8, 10 (MSG)